Monthly Archives: June 2014

Best Films of the First Half


We’re midway through 2014 and so, as I do every summer, I’ve compiled my list of favorite films so far this year. I have yet to see Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (which doesn’t come out until July 11 anyway), which I assume will make my year-end list.  I love Linklater and last year at this time I already knew his Before Midnight would be one of my top films of the year.  In general it’s been a fairly standard first half of the cinematic year: a few great films but not a lot of memorable ones. I’m excited to see what’s to come this fall. Here’s what’s stayed with me so far in 2014:

1) Locke: The more I think about this film, a one-man-in-a-car-for-90-minutes tour de force from Tom Hardy, the more I find it impressive. Not only is it another fine entry into the growing genre of “minimalist actor showcase” films (see also: Robert Redford in the criminally under seen All is Lost), but it’s also a master class in filmmaking. Only after the film is over, and just as you’re getting used to Hardy’s peculiar Welsh accent, does the force of its power start to hit you. It’s a film that doesn’t tell you what it’s about but reveals itself over time (days, weeks, months in my case) and after much reflection to be a film that is about nearly everything. Countless times over the last few months, whether reading Genesis, watching the news, dealing with relational stress or driving the L.A. freeways, my thoughts have returned to Locke. That’s the mark of a great film. (my full review)

2) Noah: I’ve been unabashed in my acclaim for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and my insistence that, in spite of all the controversy surrounding the ROCK MONSTERS, “liberties taken with the story” and accusations of Gnosticism, it’s actually a pretty excellent film–one of Aronofsky’s best. Not only is it a great film but it’s a rather reverential one too, taking faith in God more seriously (ironically) than some of the more on-the-nose God films that came out this year (I’m looking at you, God’s Not Dead). Yes, its an unfamiliar take on the story. Yes, it’s environmentalist (so is the Bible). Yes, it draws from more than just the Bible in its telling of a biblical story (so did The Passion of the Christ). Whatever. I loved it, I’m a Christian and my faith is richer because of this film. (my full review)

3) True Detective: OK, I know this isn’t a film per se. It’s TV (well, HBO). But who can tell movies and TV apart anymore? This eight-part epic takes the police procedural to the next level, mixing the ominous tone of Zodiac with the potboiler plots of C.S.I., but with far more grit and misanthropy. Though at times a bit too bleak for me, the show’s finale (“Form and Void”) puts the whole thing in a new perspective and adds major theological gravitas to an already philosophically bent show.

4) Under the Skin: Jonathan Glazer’s follow-up to his stylish enigma Birth (2004), Under the Skin is a similarly provocative exploration of what it means to be human, particularly what it means to be embodied. Starring Scarlett Johansson in her second non-human role in a row (see also: Her), Under the Skin is quite literally about skin: the phenomenon of a soul clothed in a body, of our bodily substance, of what an alien’s gaze at the awkwardness of humanity might look like if it spent some time in our shoes. It’s also about incarnation, which is also a theme in Her. In the midst of our disembodying, digital age, films like these help remind us of the complexity and wonder of what it means to be human.

5) The Immigrant: The latest from James Gray (Two Lovers, We Own the Night), The Immigrant is a glorious and deceptively simple throwback to classic Hollywood melodrama. Featuring exceptional work from the always terrific Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, The Immigrant explores the very American mingling of God and mammon, as well as grace and work, as it tells the tale of America’s messy dream. (my full review)

Honorable mention: Cold in July, Ida, Night Moves, Mad Men, Mitt

Note: THE IMMIGRANT, TRUE DETECTIVE and especially UNDER THE SKIN  contain sexual material and nudity and should be approached with caution for those sensitive to this type of content. 

Carl Lentz, CNN and Hipster Christianity

Earlier this week a segment aired on CNN about “hipster pastor” Carl Lentz, the heavily tattooed, dynamic personality who has helped make Hillsong Church in NYC the sort of place that piques mainstream journalists’ interest and occasionally draws paparazzi (celebrities sometimes attend). Back in March, CNN sent its correspondent, Poppy Harlow, to L.A. to interview me for the story. They filmed about 45 minutes of her interview with me, in which I spoke mostly about the general topic of “hipster Christianity” since I wrote the book on the subject. Only a few lines from my interview made it into the final segment. Watch it below (my part comes in about 5 minutes into the segment) and then I’ll share a few further reflections on the matter:


A few brief reflections:

  • I have nothing personal against Carl Lentz or Hillsong NYC. I’ve never met him and never attended his church. When CNN interviewed me for the story I made it clear to them that I was speaking about the broad trend of hipster Christianity and hipster pastors, but that I knew little if anything about Lentz specifically. Naturally the way the piece is edited it seems like I’m being pit against Lentz as a skeptic or critic, but really I’m just skeptical of the broad trends of churches trying so hard to be cool and pastors aspiring to be hip.
  • In general I am a fan of the Hillsong movement. Hillsong has planted thriving churches all over the globe and that is something I absolutely applaud. I’ve visited two Hillsong churches (London and Paris) and in Hipster Christianity I wrote very nice things about my experience at Hillsong Paris.
  • It’s interesting to me that the media is so fascinated by Lentz and Hillsong NYC, as if Lentz is the first hipster celebrity pastor and Hillsong NYC is the first megachurch to succeed in NYC. During my interview with Poppy Harlow I tried to emphasize that this was not a new trend, that hipster pastors are a dime a dozen and that “cool” has been the holy grail of American evangelicalism for quite some time now; Lentz is just the latest example. I suspect proximity has something to do with why Lentz is such a darling of the media (here’s a Details profile of him that also features quotes from me). The media is in NYC. So is Carl Lentz. But so are many other well-known pastors, many of whom are arguably more widely respected and influential (I’m looking at you Tim Keller). For the media, though, a bearded Bieber friend is a more compelling story than a balding Bible scholar.
  • In response to my comments in the CNN piece, some people tweeted things like “Don’t you see that it’s just a different medium? The message is what matters.” I would agree that the message is crucial, but I would also say the message cannot be divorced from the way it is communicated. Marshall McLuhan was on to something when he said the medium IS the message. The form matters. We can’t pretend that the gospel presented via tweet is the exact same thing as the gospel preached from a pulpit, or face to face around a dinner table. Likewise, we are foolish to think that a church that looks and feels like a nightclub, with a pastor who struts around like a runway model, in no way changes the “message” of what is being communicated about the gospel. Likewise, an Anglican church with pews and robes and hymns, with no screens or smoke machines, colors the message in a totally different (not necessarily better) way. The gospel is not just an ethereal set of words and ideas; it’s something incarnate, living, embodied. The look, feel, touch and sound of it is inextricably linked to (if not the substance of) its meaning. The message inheres in the medium. That is one of the biggest points I wanted to make in Hipster Christianity